SALT LAKE CITY — Police have beefed up their nighttime presence near an overcrowded homeless shelter as part of a wider effort to combat an uptick in crime in an area where three people have been killed in the past two weeks.
The department tripled the number of officers near the arena where the Utah Jazz play, and it expects keep up the numbers. Police hope a more visible presence, which started this past weekend, will deter drug dealing and violence, authorities said.
It came the same weekend Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams revealed that he spent a night on the street and another in a troubled shelter in March to experience homelessness firsthand.
Police are reviewing the effect of the increase in officers in the first weekend to figure out the best strategy, Sgt. Brandon Shearer said Monday. He declined to discuss more specifics.
The move is considered a stop-gap effort until lawmakers and local and state officials hammer out the details of a broader plan to combat problems in the area that they pledged to roll out last month.
The initiative would include more officers, more jail beds and additional treatment for those addicted to drugs, authorities have said.
McAdams said posing as a homeless man was a fact-finding mission, not a publicity stunt. He said he witnessed violence and drug use at the downtown shelter, heartbreaking scenes with families and the exhaustion of just trying to find food and a bed.
"I didn't feel safe," McAdams told the Deseret News. "It was a fairly chaotic environment."
Matt Minkevitch, the Road Home shelter's executive director, said he understands why McAdams wanted to spend time undercover to better understand the issue. But he discouraged others from trying it because it would take beds away from the needy.
McAdams said he sent donations to cover his use of the resources.
This summer, the violence has increased near the downtown shelter.
A man was found fatally shot on a downtown sidewalk on July 16, police said. That came a day after a man was beaten to death and three other people were hurt in a series of random, unprovoked attacks. The man who died was attacked by people with a 50-pound cinderblock.
In early July, a woman was accused of driving into a crowd of people on a sidewalk near a homeless shelter and killing a woman. Days earlier, a homeless man attacked a minor league baseball player with a crowbar during an attempted robbery in the same area.